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War for the Planet of the Apes review – long on budget, short on ideas | reviews, news & interviews

War for the Planet of the Apes review – long on budget, short on ideas

War for the Planet of the Apes review – long on budget, short on ideas

'Apocalypse Now' goes to Stalag Luft III

Andy Serkis rides again as Caesar, the ape messiah

There’s been talk about the way this latest instalment of the rebooted Ape franchise, and the one which brings the story of the brainy messianic ape Caesar full circle, is an allegory of Isis’s onslaught in Iraq or the rise of Donald Trump. Certainly there are piteous scenes of fearful apes traumatised by military attacks, while the evil and genocidal Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) is building a wall round his base to keep his enemies out (see, just like the Donald’s Mexican wall!), but it seems all this had been written before the events they supposedly reflect.

Wipe away that knee-jerk orange Trumpian mist for a moment and it becomes obvious that War for the Planet of the Apes is a mash-up of Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape and Exodus. Look no further than Harrelson’s performance, since his fascistic military renegade, his eyes staring crazily out of a face daubed with Special Ops warpaint, is just Colonel Kurtz revisited, and he’s sure as hell hunkered down in his own private heart of darkness (Caesar negotiates with McCullough, pictured below).

Where Kurtz had become an atavistic maniac slaughtering the Viet Cong with extreme prejudice, so McCullough has trained up his own force of gung-ho psychos to exterminate his simian foe (the Viet Kong, perhaps). One of them has even scrawled “Ape-pocalypse now” on a cave wall, in case you’re not keeping up. Fuelling McCullough’s loathing is the way the arrival of the intelligent apes has run in parallel with the decimation of mankind by a lethal simian virus, which is now mutating and causing humans to lose the power of speech and to decay mentally. The Colonel has been shooting his own men when they display symptoms, so the quality of his mercy is frankly pretty poor.

Attempts by Caesar to broker a peace between apes and the military have broken down, despite Caesar’s merciful treatment of some captured soldiers, and the murder of his wife and son push Caesar to take extreme measures. While his ape-clan wander the lovingly-photographed wilderness in search of a safe refuge, he aims to track down and kill McCullough, his vengeful urges prompting vivid flashbacks of Koba, the human-hating bonobo from previous instalments. Caesar knows that his lust for vengeance is corrosive and potential fatal, but it’s out of his control.

The crunch comes when he finds that most of the remaining apes are being held by McCullough in a prison camp, guarded by his brutish troopers (with some help from contemptible quisling-gorillas). The film mixes cloying sentimentality, as when Caesar and his little band adopt a winsome orphan girl (Amiah Miller, pictured below with Karin Konoval as Maurice the orang utan) who can no longer speak, or when we meet Steve Zahn playing a slapstick music-hall monkey who calls himself Bad Ape, with scenes of sadistic brutality as the captive apes are whipped, beaten and crucified. It’s more Schindler’s List than Hogan’s Heroes.

The motion capture technology which turns actors (notably Andy Serkis as Caesar) into apes has now reached a level of sophistication which very nearly makes you believe the animals are, effectively, human, but this can have the effect of making the emotions you’re feeling seem like a sophisticated con-trick. Why, you might ask yourself, am I trying to empathise with a bunch of computer-generated science-fiction primates with unfeasible names like Maurice and Cornelius when the world is teeming with real-life stories of torture and genocide? And, having tweaked Caesar’s body movements and facial expressions to such a fine degree of expressiveness, why did they lumber him with a ridiculous basso-profundo American accent, as if he’s the voice-over guy for the Resident Evil franchise? They could have got him to deliver a portentous introduction to this movie: “In a world where apes and humans are locked in a life-and-death battle against extinction...”

It won’t surprise you to learn that there’s a big, noisy, violent climax, but far be it from me to reveal whether our persecuted protagonists reach ape-nirvana, or whether Caesar’s mission is accomplished. But I would say that where Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) was a vaguely plausible parable about the dangers of scientists messing with nature, this one doesn’t have an original thought about anything.

It can make the emotions you're feeling seem like a sophisticated con-trick

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Comments

Dawn had nothing to do with scientists messing with nature...that was Rise. Dawn had to do human and apes fighting for survival (water dam) and an anti-war/gun message. Now I'm wondering if you are confusing War with another movie as well, because I thought War was a brilliant message with great themes.

Thanks Roy. You're right – it was Rise, my mistake. Most critics seem to agree with you about War, though not me obviously.

I wonder how come most critics liked it. To me it felt never ending.

You are out of your MIND ! Best film of the year/summer !

to me it was 4-star, and i feel this review was written more by a 'movie cynic' than a 'movie critic' i actually think 'Cesar's trilogy' is a mighty accomplishment, and that it will be highly regarded well into the future...intelligent blockbuster film-making that makes us think about humanity in an unexpected way

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